Are Enyimba good enough to win the Caf Champions League after 15 years of waiting?

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On the back of an impressive victory over Rahimo FC, the People’s Elephant will be having another go at a third continental crown

Prior to the conclusion of the 2019 abridged Nigeria Professional Football League season, Enyimba were living under shadows, an unfamiliar scenario for the most decorated side in the country.

All that changed when they won the playoffs and sealed an eighth league title in unexpected manner. It was indeed unexpected in that Enyimba were far from their best during the regular season, finishing third in Group A, eight points behind table-toppers, Enugu Rangers.

Coach Usman Abdallah had come under heavy scrutiny since he took over from Paul Aigbogun, but the league triumph overshadowed any negative perceptions conceived about him, and he remains in his post.

Enyimba Rahimo scoreline PS

The next big task now is to achieve success in the Caf Champions League, and they've started in brilliant fashion, brushing aside Burkina Faso's Rahimo FC 5-1 on aggregate in the Preliminary Round.

It’s their first appearance in Africa’s elite club competition since 2016, where they failed to make it out of the group phase, and it’s now been 15 years since Enyimba last won the Champions League.

Can they go the distance this time around?

They have invested heavily in the transfer market and brought in top quality from the rest of the NPFL. The new arrivals include Victor Mbaoma from Remo Stars, Olufemi Kayode from Lobi Stars, Sunshine Stars’ Dayo Ojo, Akwa United's Cyril Olisema, Austine Opara from Mountain of Fire FC, and others.

There have been many big departures as well, with Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, Stephen Chukwude, Ibrahim Mustapha, Fatau Dauda and Joseph Osadiaye among those heading towards the exit door.

It’s been a massive restructuring at Enyimba, with former Remo Stars coach Fatai Osho also brought in to work alongside Abdallah. The Aba giants have been known for defensive solidity under Abdallah, conceding just 13 goals during the regular season, the least of any side, while on the offensive side, they scored just 22 goals, 10 less than the highest scoring side, Akwa Untied.

Osho was likely introduced to improve the attacking side of the team, and having a proven forward like Mboma, whom Osho worked with at Remo Stars, will be a massive advantage.

Could this be a better side than the conquering team of 2003 and 2004?

In a chat with Goal, midfield maestro Chukwuka Onuwa thinks this present squad is good enough to win the Champions League.

“We have been working hard in training and I believe this team can win the Champions League with the spirit of togetherness and efforts of the coaches,” he began. “Enyimba is like a family with a strong winning tradition.

"Some big players like Osadiaye have left, but we can cope. We have a very formidable team.”

This is a much younger squad than in previous years, as many of players who featured last term have now left. It gives Enyimba fresh impetus and more hunger to challenge, although the new faces will doubtless take time to gel.

Ouwa quote PS

It means there will be rough patches, but the Enyimba hierarchy don’t usually have patience when things aren’t going well.

The belief is that with this heavy investment, the results must come whichever way possible, although the reality might not be so straightforward.

The pressure is thus on Usman Abdallah once again; he has done well in the space of a year, taking Enyimba to the Caf Confederation Cup semi-finals for the first time ever to winning the NPFL.

It’s an amazing feat, but gunning for the Champions League with this new collection represents a mammoth task.

Enyimba Usman Abd'Allah

Next up is a tricky clash against Sudan’s most successful club, Al-Hilal, for a place in the group stage.

Though Enyimba are more successful than the Blue Waves, with two Champions League titles to the Sudanese’s nil, the North Africans have featured more prominently in the tournament, playing every year since 2004.

They also reached the Champions League semis as recently as 2015, compared to Enyimba’s last appearance in the same round in 2011.

It will be a much sterner test than Rahimo FC, and fans must not believe that this early, emphatic triumph is the first step to a title-winning season...at least not yet!

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